Born Toby Marks in 1964 in South London, England; married. Addresses: Home--Cheddar, U.K. Record company--Gecko Records, P.O. Box 1195, Cheddar, BS27 3YE, U.K. E-mail: Efirstname.lastname@example.org.
The British electronic music pioneer and multi-instrumentalist Toby Marks, known in the music business as Banco De Gaia, utilized musical samples from all over the world to create a danceable, yet still cerebral, body of work with an obvious international flavor. He entered the electronica scene in 1991 when he issued a collection of cassette-only releases that focused mainly upon ambient textures and sounds. In addition to music, Marks also participated in numerous environmental and Tibetan freedom support groups. He was regarded not only as a talented composer, but also as a person with a deep-rooted social consciousness. Thus, his social and political convictions often informed the themes of his music, leading many critics to label his work as "intelligent techno." In 1999, Marks took a new musical direction when he produced The Magical Sounds of Banco De Gaia under his own record label. Instead of focusing mainly on ambient sounds, he chose to create a more upbeat, lively collection of songs that brought him greater mainstream success.
Born Toby Marks in 1964 in South London, England, De Gaia experienced a typical middle-class British upbringing, attending a traditional boys' school in the town of his birth. He took to playing a variety of instruments early on, and by 1978, Marks joined a heavy metal band, serving as the group's drummer. His musical interests started to shift, though, during the 1980s when electronic music exploded in Great Britain's acid-house nightclubs.
During his teens and twenties, Marks also began reading about the Buddhist religion and other related subjects in an attempt to discover a deeper meaning of life; he believed that the Western culture he was raised in had not provided him with a sense of spirituality. In his study of Buddhism, he repeatedly came upon the subject of Tibet, a country invaded and taken over by China in 1950. After the invasion, the Chinese government set out to destroy the traditions and spiritual culture of Tibet, killing and torturing millions of Tibetans as well as their spiritual leaders. Touched and angered by the Tibetan peoples' struggle to regain their freedom from the Chinese since the time of the hostile takeover and subsequent human rights abuses, Marks decided to support the Tibetan cause. He remained an activist for Tibet's freedom, in addition to environmental preservation, throughout his adulthood. Moreover, Eastern cultures and music such as that of Tibet would find a place in his own work.
Around 1986, Marks moved to Portugal where he performed mostly Beatles songs in bars for tourists in order to earn a living. While living in Portugal, Marks also adopted his recording persona, Banco De Gaia, the name of one of the country's banks. Then in 1989, Marks bought his fist sampler, which further ignited his interest in electronic music, and soon recorded his first song entitled "Maxwell House." Subsequently, he returned to London, spending the early 1990s releasing cassette-only albums distributed through Planet Dog, a network of clubs and electronic/ambient artists. These albums, now out of print, included Medium (1991), Freeform Flutes & Fading Tibetans (1992), and Deep Live (1993).
Marks put a different spin on his brand of electronica in comparison to other ambient artists. Rather than only drawing upon the influences of Western musical culture, Marks, through his spiritual connections to other cultures, included elements of Eastern and Arabic music, which he tied in with ambient and dance rhythms. "You can sample anything," Marks told Tony Fletcher in an interview for Newsday, "so why limit yourself to western sounds? I'm not consciously bringing in world music elements. It's just that some elements are coming from parts of the world further away than ours."
Eventually, Planet Dog transformed into a record label, and Marks released his first record on compact disc in 1993, the Desert Wind EP. In early 1994, Marks released his debut album entitled Maya, followed by Last Train to Lhasa in 1995. Although the debut contained some of Marks's favorite tracks, such as "Mafich Arabi" and "Heliopolis" (released as a single in 1994), songs he continued to play during live shows throughout his career, his sophomore effort sounded more refined because of his improved production skills. Furthermore, the entire album dealt with the plight of Tibet, and Planet Dog released the title track as a single. Most critics agreed that Last Train to Lhasa, infused with trance-like beats and spiritual chants, represented one of Marks's best works.
The following year, 1996, brought a rare concert recording entitled Live at Glastonbury that captured one of Marks's most renowned live performances. Compared to his prior albums, this release focused less on serene, ambient textures and more on upbeat, groove-oriented sounds and bass rhythms. "A very good recording of possibly the most vibey gig I did in '95, definitely makes you feel like you're there," wrote Marks on his website regarding the live album. "Well, obviously it doesn't really, but it definitely sounds like a good gig, which it was."
In 1997, Marks released the album Big Men Cry and returned to his mellow tones, although the album still contained some danceable tracks. A variety of live instruments added to Marks's inspiring songwriting ability and sampling and production skills made the collection a worthwhile accomplishment. Nonetheless, Marks admitted to suffering from writers' block the previous year, a frustration that the prolific musician had never suffered from before. Moreover, working in a dark studio some twenty miles away from his home made the creative process even more difficult for Marks. However, after hearing the recordings made during his 1995 show in Glastonbury, the musician felt more inspired. He was not aware that the performance had been taped by the man running the stage, but because Marks liked the recording so well, he immediately agreed to it's release. Suddenly, the process of creating songs for Big Men Cry seemed to fall into place.
Despite his triumph, though, the release of Big Men Cry led to problems between Marks and his record label. As the last album Marks was under contract to produce for Planet Dog, the work lacked commercial appeal, and the label refused to promote Big Men Cry as heavily as they had promoted his prior records. Therefore, Marks, feeling that his interests and Planet Dog's interests had grown apart, decided to start anew.
After a disappointing United States tour with techno artist Moby in an attempt to promote the album himself, Marks returned to London and took a retreat with his wife to an area of England called the New Forest in Somerset. Taken by the peaceful, serene landscape, he relocated from London to a town in Somerset called Cheddar. Here he bought a home, remodeled the garage into a studio, and formed his own label imprint, Gecko Records. By 1999, with his faith restored and the freedom to work by his own terms, Marks released The Magical Sounds of Banco De Gaia, an album that demonstrated a whole new side of the musician. As a whole, the songs were more upbeat and fun, giving the record more commercial appeal than any of his previous releases. Nevertheless, Marks continued with the ambient structures of his past, retaining the ability to please older Banco De Gaia fans as well as new listeners.
Critics praised the album with reviews like "Toby takes you on a journey... The opening track ['I Love Baby Cheese'] immediately grabs you with its catchy vocal snippets and breakbeats, and is a great opening statement," as Tom Harding of Future Music concluded. Other tracks such as "Harvey And The Old Ones" and the blissful "Sinhala" continued the beating rhythms, even though an apparent touch of classic ambient influences remained. "When I started writing the album it was a breeze, the easiest of all the albums," Marks told Harding. "We had a new place to live and I love the countryside so that definitely shows through. The album is much more uplifting and light-hearted."
Following the success of The Magical Sounds of Banco De Gaia, Marks began a tour to further promote his new album. In the past, his live performances featured a five-piece band that included drums, percussion, bass, saxophone, and guitar, the instruments that Marks played himself for recorded work. For the 1999 tour, Marks opted for a simpler lineup that consisted of a rhythm section to complement his guitar playing and handling of the technical equipment. However, he managed to maintain the excitement of his previous concerts by adding more special effects lighting and a slide show that he described to Fletcher as a "personalized rave."
by Laura Hightower
Banco De Gaia's Career
Began musical career in 1978 as a drummer in a heavy metal band; inspired by acid- house music, as well as Buddhism and Tibetan culture during the 1980s; moved to Portugal, performed Beatles songs in clubs to tourists, 1986; recorded "Maxwell House," 1989; returned to London, released series of cassette-only albums: Medium, 1991; Freeform Flutes & Fading, 1992; Deep Live, 1993; released, Desert Wind EP, 1993; released debut CD, Maya, Planet Dog, 1994; released Last Train to Lhasa, Planet Dog, 1995; issued rare concert recording, Live at Glastonbury, Planet Dog, 1996; released Big Men Cry, Planet, 1997; toured U.S. with Moby, moved to English countryside, formed own label, Gecko Records, released The Magical Sounds of Banco De Gaia, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Maya , Planet Dog/Mammoth, 1994.
- (compilation)One A.D. , Waveform Corporation, 1994.
- (compilation)Trance Europe Express 3 , Volume, 1994.
- Last Train to Lhasa , Planet Dog/Mammoth, 1995.
- Live at Glastonbury , Planet Dog/Mammoth, 1996.
- Big Men Cry , Planet Dog/Mammoth, 1997.
- (compilation)Pi , Sire, 1998.
- "I Love Baby Cheesy" (single), Gecko/Six Degrees, 1999.
- The Magical Sounds of Banco De Gaia , Gecko/ Six Degrees, 1999.
- Graff, Gary, Daniel Durchholz, editors,musicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
- Dallas Morning News, September 4, 1997, p. 5C.
- Esquire, December 1, 1995, p. 56.
- Future Music, August 1999, pp. 60-62.
- Newsday, November 17, 1999, p. B23.
- "Banco De Gaia," All Music Guide website, http://www.allmusic.com, (September 13, 1999).
- "Banco De Gaia," Launch.com: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com, (September 13, 1999).
- The Official Banco De Gaia Website, http://www.banco.co.uk, (September 13, 1999).
- "Banco De Gaia," Rolling Stone.com Artists A to Z, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com, (September 13, 1999).